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Arizona baseball takes rare losing streak into weekend series at Washington State

arizona-wildcats-baseball-college-johnson-wsu-cougars-preview-pac12-streak-2021 Arizona Athletics

If there’s really such a thing as a “good” problem in sports, Arizona’s offense might have one.

The Wildcats averaged nearly 9.5 runners left on base per game, stranding 10 or more in 16 of 31 contests this season. Yet they’re 11-5 in those games, twice coming out on top despite leaving 14 runners on base.

So it goes when you have the fifth-best batting average in the country (.318) and rank eighth nationally in scoring (8.4 runs per game).

“When you have a prolific offense that we do, you’re just going to have more guys on base,” UA coach Jay Johnson said. “I think those numbers get skewed a little bit. I wouldn’t call it a concern. We’re just focused on what we need to do to keep getting guys in. With a runner on third base and less than two outs we’re one of the top teams in the country of getting guys in. I’m not really in a position to make too much of that right now.”

Arizona (21-10, 7-5 Pac-12) left 13 men on base in its last game, a 5-4 loss in 10 innings at Grand Canyon on Tuesday. Johnson said a few at-bats made the difference in that one, including a great defensive play by GCU’s second baseman on a grounder up the middle by Daniel Susac with runners on second and third and two out in the fourth and the UA up 4-3.

“If that ball gets up the middle we’re up 6-3,” he said. “I thought we hit a lot of balls hard, right at people. We hit several balls hard with guys on base. They brought in their closer with one out (in the eighth) and first and second and Branden Boissiere hit a ball 110 mph off the bat right at the second baseman. And then Ryan Holgate came up and hit a ball 112 mph off the bat right at the first baseman.”

Arizona takes a 2-game skid, only its third losing streak of the season, into a 3-game set at Washington State beginning Friday at 3 p.m. PT. Under second-year coach Brian Green, who was previously in charge of mid-major power New Mexico State, Cougars (16-12, 4-8) have already surpassed their conference win total from 2019, and their .288 batting average and 196 runs are second-most in the Pac-12 behind only the UA.

“The first thing you notice about this Washington State team is they’re more talented,” Johnson said of WSU, against whom he is 9-3 with the Wildcats. “This is not maybe what we had seen two years ago in terms of talent. They’re playing very competitively. Every Pac-12 weekend is the same in terms of competitiveness, regardless of what the jersey says.”

While Arizona’s previous two mini losing streaks came in the middle of homestands, this one began at Hi Corbett and accompanied the Wildcats on their flight Wednesday night from Phoenix to Spokane as well as the bus down to Pullman. But so did the thing that makes Johnson the most confident that the streak won’t last much longer.

“We practiced yesterday in Phoenix before we left, and the focus went from improving some things from the game on Tuesday night and getting on the road,” he said. “The best way to do that is to put Chase Silseth on the mound on Friday.”

Silseth is the first UA pitcher to start a season 5-0 since Nathan Bannister did so in 2015. The sophomore right-hander is coming off 6.1 shutout innings against Cal, dropping his ERA to 1.07 in Friday starts.

Also expected to be in the lineup Friday is sophomore shortstop Jacob Blas, who missed Tuesday’s game with what Johnson described as upper body soreness. It was the first game all season Blas has missed.

Berry, Boissiere make Golden Spikes midseason list

First baseman Branden Boissiere and third baseman/DH Jacob Berry were named to the midseason watch list of the Golden Spikes Award, given to college baseball’s top player. The only Pac-12 player on the list is Oregon’s Kenyon Yovan.

Berry, a true freshman, leads Arizona in batting (.414), home runs (six), RBI (35), slugging (.694) and on-base percentage (.511). Boissiere, a third-year sophomore, is hitting .382 with team bests in hits (47) and runs scored (39, same as center fielder Donta’ Williams).